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Ritter: The near impossibility of 'quantitative disarmament'

One hopes the editorial writers of the Boston Globe will stumble across this
piece, appearing as it does in their very own op-ed pages.

Going nowhere on Iraq 
By Scott Ritter, March 9, 2000 

Hans Blix, the newly appointed executive chairman of the United Nations
Monitoring and Verification Commission, has his work cut out for him. He
takes over the difficult task of disarming Iraq from the now defunct United
Nations Special Commission. In addition, he finds himself in a political
firestorm over economic sanctions against Iraq.

These sanctions are the foundation of the Clinton administration's efforts
to contain Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Under new Security Council
resolutions that created UNMOVIC, economic sanctions can be suspended (not
lifted) only after Blix finds Iraq to have fully complied with its
disarmament obligation. Even then, all proceeds from the sale of oil would
be controlled by the Security Council. 

This arrangement is unacceptable to Iraq, which has refused to cooperate
with the new disarmament agency. In light of this, the Clinton
administration has proclaimed that economic sanctions will be locked in
place for the foreseeable future, despite compelling evidence that these
sanctions are responsible for massive suffering on the part of the Iraqi

Even if Iraq did agree to cooperate, Blix has a tough job. I spent seven
years as a senior weapons inspector with UNSCOM, and can testify to the
frustration of trying to disarm Iraq. Blix inherits the task of overseeing
the ''quantitative disarmament'' of Iraq - that is, accounting for every
last vestige of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs. 

There is no latitude for inspectors to accept anything less than 100 percent
disarmament, which, given the combined effect of the passage of time and
Iraqi intransigence, leaves the inspectors in the nearly impossible position
of trying to prove a negative. The reality that, from a qualitative
standpoint, Iraq has in fact been disarmed has been ignored. The chemical,
biological, nuclear, and long-range ballistic missile programs that were a
real threat in 1991 had, by 1998, been destroyed or rendered harmless.

Iraq did not readily submit to this disarmament. Iraq concealed the
fragmented vestiges of its past weapons program. However while these
documents and disparate components would be useful if Iraq were to try to
reconstitute a weapons of mass destruction manufacturing capability, on
their own they represented a viable threat to no one. 

However, it is the policy of the Clinton administration to maintain economic
sanctions until Saddam Hussein is removed from office. This means that
weapons inspections will be supported only so long as they legitimize the
continuation of economic sanctions. This is the reality faced by Blix, and
understood by Iraq.

Unfortunately, the Clinton administration has no viable vision for Iraq
beyond containment through continued economic sanctions. Its policy of
regime removal has no chance of success. The Iraqi opposition is plagued by
deep internal divisions, and has no meaningful constituency inside Iraq. 

America's fumbling embrace of these ineffective exiles-in-waiting guarantees
that Saddam Hussein will remain in power for the foreseeable future. It also
assures that no progress toward the resumption of meaningful arms control in
Iraq will take place, thus condemning the people of Iraq to continued
torment with no hope of relief.

The Clinton Iraq policy is morally bankrupt. There can be no honor in a
policy that has resulted in the doubling of the infant mortality rate in
Iraq and that leads to the death, through malnutrition and untreated
disease, of 5,000 children under the age of 5 every month. 

It is time for a new approach toward Iraq, one which builds upon the
concepts of diplomatic engagement. Trading the lifting (not suspension) of
economic sanctions for the resumption of meaningful inspections would
represent an important first step. Earlier this year, Iraq opened the door
for compromise by indicating its willingness to deal with weapons inspectors
if the Security Council agrees to an immediate lifting of sanctions. The
Clinton administration, locked into its failed policies of the past, is
unable and unwilling to take advantage of this diplomatic opening.

It will be up to the next president of the United States to solve the Iraqi
problem. This is an issue that the candidates should be debating.
Unfortunately, they all have indicated that they will support a continuation
of the policy of containment through economic sanctions. Such policy
formulations only guarantee that the next administration will keep stumbling
deeper into the Iraqi quagmire. The American people, and the people of Iraq,
deserve much better.

Scott Ritter is the author of ''Endgame: Solving the Iraqi Problem Once and
For All.''

This story ran on page A23 of the Boston Globe on 3/9/2000. 
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